20 June 2010

Return and reflection

24-26 May, 2010

In the morning I packed my bags and did a bit of blogging.  Then I caught the metro to the airport.  I left my hotel 3 hours before my plane was due to leave, and as it happened, that was a good thing, because I had a long wait for the train.  I checked my large suitcase through to Auckland and took what I needed for my stopover in Dubai in my backpack.  The flight went fine and the transfer to my hotel in Dubai went perfectly.  I was just sorry I wasn't staying longer as it was a lovely hotel!  (I got into Dubai around 10pm and had to leave the hotel around 7.15am the next day.)  I flew directly to Sydney, arriving at 6am on the 26th, and after a short stopover headed on to Auckland.  After my sleep in the hotel in Dubai, I found it almost impossible to sleep on the plane - so I watched movies non-stop to Sydney and on to Auckland!  I particularly liked Helen Mirren's portrayal of Tolstoy's wife in the Last Station and I thought that District 9 was a very exciting and involving movie.  When I got to Auckland I found my suitcase as planned and then had a few hours to wait for the plane to Wellington.  By this time I was definitely wilting!  I finally got to Wellington around 6pm and had a lovely welcome from Helen, Michael, Eliza and my mother who had come to meet me.  It was great to spend the evening (and the following days) together with the family after 9 weeks apart.

As I have reflected on my trip, I have thought how fortunate I was in all that I did and experienced.  How can I sum up such an amazing and enriching time in a few paragraphs?  Perhaps a photograph will help.

This is an icon of the resurrection that I photographed in the Benaki Museum in Athens.  Another depiction of this same traditional resurrection theme had been discussed during my Holy Week and Easter course in Jerusalem.  So it links both parts of my time away.

In the centre of the icon is Jesus, depicted as the all-conquering hero, defeating death and depopulating hell through his glorious resurrection power.  The absolute centre of our faith as Christians is Jesus the Messiah, who is Saviour, Lord and God.  Whether in Israel and Jordan or in Greece and modern-day Turkey, the saving power of this Jesus was experienced and proclaimed by those who knew him during his earthly life, and those, like St Paul, who first met him as the risen Lord of all.  Jesus is the Lord we proclaim throughout the world.  Of course, we do not proclaim him to the exclusion of God the Father or of the Holy Spirit, but we must not water down the fact that the human/divine Jesus was raised from the dead.  He ascended to the Father and lives to raise all of us to life with him.

Notice the vigour with which he raises Adam and Eve from the dead - and with them all of us.  Human sin and death is no match for the vitality and goodness within our Saviour.  He pulls them by their arms.  They are not helping him.  They cannot help themselves.  Jesus is doing this alone in the power of God.  He stands on the broken-down gates of hell and beneath his feet are the demons and all the instruments by which they have sought to harm and terrorise humanity.  Satan is fast bound, never to do harm again.

And Jesus does this for both Adam and Eve - for male and female, for all who are like me and all who are not like me.  There is no one across any human divide, however much I dislike or differ from that person, however much you dislike or differ from that person, who is not a subject for the resurrection to eternal life through Jesus Christ.  He is not just my Lord or our Lord but Lord of all.  As I said in my blog on Easter Day (8 April), "God's love and goodwill is for all of us whoever and whatever we are."

What return can we make for all the goodness and life that radiate from our Saviour and lover of all?  That is perhaps the most important question as I come to the end of my sabbatical.  Fr Makarios at Simonos Petras monastery on Mt Athos would say to me, "It is all God's work, beginning and end, but in the middle we can co-operate a little."  May I and may we co-operate with the grace that God has showered upon us through Jesus, so that what he has done may achieve its purpose in our lives and in our world, to the glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Athens archaeological sites

23 May, 2010

Today was my last full day in Athens and I had set it aside for visiting the Acropolis and other archaeological sites.  First, though, as it was the Day of Pentecost, I went to the liturgy at the local Greek Orthodox Church - Agiou Konstantinou.  It was in the process of being upgraded and had scaffolding all over the outside and no photos allowed inside - so it was not a very photogenic experience.  But I was glad to put worship first on this day, and to enjoy the chanting of the cantors and the drama of the liturgy, even though I didn't understand many of the words that were used.  Sometimes my 'worship' lapsed into people-watching!  It was interesting to observe the range of people who had come to worship in this central city church and their behaviour - from chatter to intense devotion.  When the time came for people to receive communion I slipped out, as it is not permitted for people of a non-Orthodox denomination to share in communion at an Orthodox Eucharist.

Once outside I took the metro to the Monastiraki stop and walked through the Plaka area towards the Acropolis.  The Acropolis overlooks the city, but as you get closer it becomes even more dominant.

I headed towards the new Acropolis Museum.  This museum was built to house every artefact found on the Acropolis, including the marble statues removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and sold to the British Museum.  The Greeks have been trying to get these 'Elgin marbles' returned for years, and the British Museum has steadfastly refused.  The new Acropolis Museum is a strong statement to the British that the Greeks are willing and able to care for the Elgin marbles as part of their own cultural heritage.

After visiting the museum I made my way up to the Acropolis.  On the way, I passed the Odeon (theatre) of Herodes Atticus, built in 161AD.

Herodes Atticus (101-177) was a Greek nobleman who became a Roman Senator.  A very wealthy man, he donated impressive monuments in many of the famous classical sites, including a monumental water fountain (nymphaeum) in Olympia, which I saw and admired.  This splendid theatre at the Acropolis is still used for festival events in Greece.  You can get an idea of how beautiful the theatre is from the Acropolis side.

Not far from it, again on the approaches to the Acropolis, was the ancient theatre of Dionysus, one of the earliest theatres in the world, where the most famous Greek dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes would all have put on the first performances of their great plays in the fifth century BC.   What we saw, though, were remains from the stone theatre built in the fourth century BC and restored in 61 AD, in the time of the Emperor Nero.

The Acropolis itself was stunning.  Despite their inevitable deterioration over almost 2,500 years, the monuments were hugely impressive, giving just an idea of how glorious the original must have been.  This is a view of the grand entrance building and gate to the Acropolis, which is called the Propylaia.

Once inside the Propylaia I was surprised to see valuable ancient friezes just stacked up on blocks during the restoration of one of the buildings.

A little way past them was the Parthenon in all her/its glory!

This magnificent temple was built under the overall supervision of the sculptor Pheidias, who also created the monumental statue of Zeus in Olympia.  Pheidias was also in charge of the sculptural decoration.  Many of the great sculptures from the pediments and friezes of the Parthenon were removed by Lord Elgin, possibly with the permission of the then rulers of Greece, the Turks (and possibly without permission!).

One thing that I particularly noticed and appreciated about the Acropolis was that the Parthenon was not crowded by other monuments.  The planners of the site must have decided to leave it sufficient space to have its full effect on the eye.

The other major building on the summit of the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. 

This Temple has a complex shape, owing to the steep gradient of the site on the right and far side.  On the left hand side you can see the famous 'Porch of the Caryatids', with six statues of maidens (caryatids) functioning as pillars to hold up the roof.  Again, Lord Elgin took one of these caryatid sculptures.  While the originals have been placed in the new Acropolis museum, the Greeks have left one caryatid missing, as a reminder of this missing sculpture.

As I went down from the Acropolis, I saw the Areopagus just below me.  In the time of St Paul, this rock was a meeting place for the council of elders in Athens.  On a visit to Athens, St Paul noticed the large number of pagan altars there, including an altar to 'the unknown god'.  Paul then went on to give a beautifully constructed speech to the council of elders on the Areopagus, where he proclaimed the God of Israel as this unknown God, who had raised Jesus from the dead ( Acts 17:22-31).

From the Areopagus I looked down upon the ancient agora (market place) with many imposing monuments.  Just above the agora sits the beautiful temple of Hephaistos (the Greek god of fire and metal-working) built in the 5th century BC.

I walked down from the Areopagus through the ancient agora, and was most impressed to see the stoa of Attalos, a building built around 150BC, not as a ruin, but fully restored (this was done in the 1950s with funding from the American Rockefeller family).  The beautiful clean lines and white marble of the building gave me an inkling of what Athens must have looked like in its heyday.

From the agora I took a photo that captured three eras of Athens' history - the ancient Erechtheion on the Acropolis, the 10th century Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles in the agora itself, and a modern house just next to the agora. 

During my visits in Athens I had noticed Greek families coming to view museums and had thought how proud they must be of their history.  Imagine what it must feel like for a modern Athenian to live in that house in the midst of such a wealth of cultural history.

From the agora I went to various other archaeological sites.  First, the Library of Hadrian (built in 132 AD), and then the Roman agora (the marketplace used during the Roman period).  In this agora is the Tower of the Winds, built around 50BC.  This structure was eight-sided, with each side topped by a sculpture indicating one of the eight winds.  The tower displayed a sundial that showed the season and the time of day.  If the weather was overcast, the tower contained a 24 hour mechanized water clock. It might not quite have fitted on a person's wrist, but it was amazing technology for the time.

The last archaeological site I visited was the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  This monument was begun in the 6th century BC but not completed until Hadrian's time in the 2nd century AD, 638 years later!  At the time it was the biggest Temple in Greece.  Not much remains of this Temple now apart from some huge columns, indicating the scale of the original.  As you can see from the picture below, it is overlooked by the Acropolis.

I was pretty weary after traipsing around all these sites, so I took the metro back to my hotel.  After dinner I sorted through my photos and then got to bed.  I had plenty of time to pack tomorrow, before catching my plane to Dubai.

13 June 2010

3 Athens museums

22 May, 2010

I had two days to see 3 museums and the archaeological sites of Athens, and as the weather was threatening to rain today, I decided to go to the museums.

I walked through the city to get to the museums.  Along the way I was pleased to notice a shop selling mastic products from Chios.

My first stop was the Byzantine Museum, which displayed various artefacts from the Byzantine Empire (4th to 15th centuries AD), focusing particularly on the history of the territories that are part of modern Greece.

There was a lot to learn about the evolution of the Byzantine empire and the transition from pagan to Christian worship in the 4th to 6th centuries.  There was a lovely nativity scene from the Greek Island of Naxos, dating to this early period.

There was also a marble closure slab from the pulpit of the Christian Parthenon. 

In the 5th or 6th century the Parthenon was converted to a church (and later on it became the cathedral of Athens).  Sadly, in this 'Christianising' phase throughout the Empire, a great deal of damage was done to 'pagan' works of art and architecture.  The Parthenon itself suffered significant damage.  I could both understand the desire to make a break from the pagan past, and also lament the damage and destruction that resulted.

The museum contained a number of other arterfacts (including icons) that were good to see, but nothing else that needs to be mentioned specifically here.

Next, I went to the National Art Gallery, which focuses particularly on Greek art of the 19th and 20th centuries.  I was particularly taken by the works of Nikolaos Gysis (1842-1901) and Konstantinos Parthenis (1878-1967), both of whom painted religious themes as well as secular ones.  This painting by Nikolaos Gysis was entitled, "Behold the Celestial Bridegroom Comes".  The orange colour in the picture was highly luminous and with this and the huge crowd of people lining the sides of the steps, there was a sense of immensity about the painting and about the heaven it was depicting.

Another impressive picture was a very large painting by Konstantinos Parthenis of the crucified and living Christ.  The light was coming from above him and it was dark below.  He looked as if he was just in the process of coming out of the land of the dead.

This painter used colour and light beautifully.  I loved a landscape by him with wildflowers that shone out of the grass.

There were also a number of more modern works that were very striking.  Perhaps the most outstanding of these was this picture of the sea.

I loved the way that the sea was on an angle, as it often appears when you are viewing it from a  boat.

After the art gallery I set out for a private museum - the Benaki Museum - that had been highly recommended by the guide books.  It contained an amazing collection of artefacts from the whole of Greece's history.

Like the National Archaeological Museum, this museum had a beautiful display of ancient golden treasures and jewellery.  However, there were a couple of ancient pottery exhibits that particularly stood out for me.  The first exhibit was a lovely couple of vases from the 8th century BC.  The painting was particularly quirky - I loved the horses and the way the gaps were filled in with various designs.

The second exhibit I liked was this vase painting of lions, sphinxes and geese.  I thought the lions' faces were particularly well-designed and whimsical.

There were some fine icons of the Cretan school, including the following one by Andreas Ritzos.

The top floor of the museum contained artefacts from the Greek war of independence that was fought with the Ottoman Empire.  It was a long-drawn out and bitterly fought war, and there were a number of bloody massacres, including the massacre of the population at Chios in 1822 (see my post from May entitled 'In Chios').  This massacre was widely denounced in Western Europe verbally and also through artistic depictions of the massacre by Eugene Delacroix and others.  In the Benaki Museum, there was a picture by Chudiakov, entitled The Massacre at Chios, that caught my attention.

At the end of the day, as I left the Benaki Museum, I had an unexpected bonus.  I saw 3 Evzones (members of the Presidential guard) marching in their very stylised manner down the street.  The tomb of the unknown soldier is in this area, so they had presumably come from a period on duty there.

08 June 2010

Tour of mainland Greece

18-21 May, 2010

In the morning I was picked up from my hotel and taken to my tour bus, where I joined 10 others who were doing either a 3-day or 4-day 'Classical' tour of mainland Greece.  Our guide, Vassiliki, was by far the best guide I had on the tour.  Her English was excellent, she had a good sense of humour and a passion for her subject.  We learned a lot from her.

Our first stop was at the Corinth canal.  As early as classical times people had thought of digging a canal between the Saronic Gulf and the Gulf of Corinth.  But the canal was only finally dug in 1893.  It is an impressive piece of engineering.

The next stop we made was at Epidauros, where there are remains of an ancient Temple of Asklepios and a beautiful ancient Greek theatre.  Vassiliki told us that the key focus at Epidauros was the Temple of Asklepios, god of healing, and that the theatre performances offered healing of the mind to complement the healing of the body offered at the Temple.

The theatre at Epidauros was built in the 4th century BC and is the best preserved of all Greek theatres.  Greek theatres are distinctive in having a circular 'orchestra' in the front, rather than a semi-circular space as in the Roman theatres.  This circular space was originally for a group or chorus to perform songs and dances in praise of the gods, so Greek drama had religious origins.  In the 6th century BC, a man named Thespis added an actor to this group, allowing stories to be told in a much more personal and affecting way.  Subsequently extra actors were added during the 5th century BC.

The theatre at Epidauros is magnificent - and its acoustics are unbelievable.  In the centre of the orchestra is a stone.  When an actor stands on that stone, if the theatre is full and everyone is silent, the sound of the actor's breathing can be heard throughout the theatre.  Yes!  Unfortunately, when we went, there were lots of school children shouting around the theatre, so we didn't have perfect conditions to test out the acoustics.  Still, I stood on the stone and recited some lines from a chorus in the play Philoctetes by Sophocles (5th century BC), which I studied when I was a student at Victoria University.

I actually found the experience of visiting Epidauros surprisingly moving.  It was not just the connection with my study of classical Greek so long ago.  It was also the sense that the theatre had been built for the purpose of bringing people healing through a deeper experience of the truths and the sufferings of life.  There is a surprising freedom that comes with the acceptance of the uncertainties of our human condition.  As William Blake wrote many centuries later, "Man is made for joy and woe, and when this we truly know, through the world we safely go." 

After Epidauros we set off for ancient Mycenae, the famous city of Agamemnon, who led the Greek army to Troy.  On the way we passed one of 5 Mycenaean bridges in this area, which we were told were the oldest bridges still standing in Europe.  They were built in the late Helladic period (ca 1300-1190 BC).

Mycenae was a very impressive site, high up between two mountains with a natural water supply and overlooking a vast territory. 

In order to get into the ancient city of Mycenae we had to pass through the famous Lion Gate, built around 1250 BC.  Look at the huge stones in the wall, and the even more colossal stones in the frame and lintel of the gate.  The triangular relief above the lintel over the gate stands at the front of the huge lintel stone, and has a structural purpose of reducing pressure on the lintel stone itself.  An architect from the United States in our group was very interested in aspects of the engineering, which were revolutionary in their day and contributed to the development of classical architecture.

Not far through the gate was grave circle A, where Schliemann discovered the golden and other treasures that are now displayed in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.

The Mycenaean culture flourished between the 17th and 12th centuries BC.  It was the leading culture in the North Eastern Mediterranean during much of this time.  So, it was natural for the Greek expedition against Troy around 1200 BC to have been led by the king of this great city.

After visiting Mycenae, we headed off for the tourist village of Olympia, just next to the archaeological site.  It was a long journey and we were glad to arrive, have dinner and get to bed.

The next day we were out of the hotel by 8.30am, heading for Olympia. The ancient precinct was not far away and we stopped in the car park. As we walked to the site, our guide Vassiliki showed us one of the typical roadside shrines that are found throughout Greece. These shrines can indicate a nearby monastery or church, but they can also mean that there has been a death through a traffic accident of some sort. The items in the shrine can help you understand a little about the person being commemorated. There is often a card of a saint. This will be the patron saint of the person being commemorated, indicating that person’s name and gender. Secondly, there may be a little plaque with a picture of part of the person’s body. This indicates where the person needed (or had received) healing. Flowers are included for remembrance. There is normally a little oil lamp with oil poured over water (which is heavier and so stays below the level of the oil). A lighter is normally also left in the shrine. The oil lamp can be safely lit and left, knowing that it will gradually burn out and be extinguished by the water.

Olympia is a sacred precinct that has a lovely air of tranquility about it.  It is set in a beautiful area, between two rivers.  The photo below, of the ‘gymnasium’ (an open practice area for running training that was originally surrounded by a portico on all sides), gives you an idea of what the precinct was like when we visited it.  While there would have been many more buildings standing in classical times, I am sure that some of the leafy, tranquil atmosphere would still have been there.

The archaeological site, dedicated to Olympian Zeus, was an area that had been a sacred precinct even before the 12 Olympian gods began to be worshipped around 1400 BC. One temple that had been excavated dated back to the 3rd millennium BC, when the mother goddess was the principal deity. The fact that this temple is older than the surrounding temples is indicated by its being built at a lower level on the ground. Olympia constitutes one huge ‘tell’ in archaeological terms.

The Olympic Games connects with the Greek idea of honouring the gods with one’s body as well as one’s mind. These Games were sporting contests held in honour of Zeus, the king of the gods, and only free citizens of Greek cities and colonies were allowed to compete. The earliest records of the games date back to 776BC, but they had probably taken place for some years before that. The Games were held every 4 years in summer for 15 days, and during the competitions and the travelling time before and after the games, no warfare was allowed between Greeks. Victory at the Games was considered to be the greatest of honours for a Greek male and the city state he represented. (Our guide told us that there were also games for women in honour of the goddess Hera, held every four years in the spring.)

The sanctuary of Olympia built up huge prestige, and the priests of Olympia had a diplomatic and administrative role, not just a purely religious one. This would have related to the administration and  judging of the Games, appropriate honouring of special guests, keeping the peace between hostile factions while at the games, enhancing the prestige of the sanctuary and ensuring its security.

The importance of security can be understood from information about the centrepiece of the sanctuary, the Temple of Zeus.  Within it was a colossal statue of Zeus, 12 metres high, made by the sculptor, Pheidias, of wood covered with gold or ivory.  Approximately 1,000 kgs of gold was used for this one statue, and skin was indicated on the sculpture by a layer of ivory.  This sculpture was considered to be one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world.  (The sign below shows a reconstruction of the front of the temple and the comparative size of the statue of Zeus within the temple.)

Within the large ancient precinct there were many buildings.  Some of these were temples, others were buildings or monuments that had been erected for purposes relating to the athletic contests, and still others were monuments that had been erected principally to enhance the reputation of the donor.  As well as the gymnasium (for running training), we visited the palaistra (for training in wrestling and boxing), the theokoleon (priests’ quarters), the Leonidaion (accommodation for special guests), the Philippeion (monument put up by Philip of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, to emphasise his Greek heritage), various temples, and of course the stadium.  This is where the original competitions were held, and where the shot put was held in the 2004 games, held in Greece.

It was a real thrill to walk the length of the stadium and to reflect on the competitions that took place here over more than 1,000 years.

We had lunch at Olympia and then headed off towards Delphi.  Along the way we crossed the Gulf of Corinth on the new suspension bridge.

As we approached Delphi, we rose steeply from sea level.

The mountain landscape was rugged and impressive.  The village, like the ancient site of Delphi close by, was set on the side of a steep mountain.  This is the view from the village towards the Gulf of Corinth.

The next morning we were up and off early to visit the archaeological site of Delphi.  Delphi was a sacred site of huge importance to the Greeks and eventually throughout Europe and Asia Minor as well.  The Delphic oracle was the most famous prophetic oracle in the ancient world and kings, rulers and military leaders all came to Delphi to seek advice from the oracle so that they would know what actions to take.

We started our tour at the Delphi museum, to get an idea of the layout, history and artefacts of the site.  A model showed the layout of the site.

The main temple on the site was the temple of Apollo, the god to whom the whole site of Delphi was dedicated. In this model, just in front of the Temple, you can see a large column (over 10 metres high) on which a sphinx was erected as a guardian to ward off evil.  This was an offering from the island of Naxos around 560 BC.  The sphinx itself is in the museum.

There were some amazing treasures in the museum, but three stood out for me in particular.  Firstly, some treasures had been stored in a pit in the 5th century BC, apparently after a fire (because the treasures were all burned to some degree).  Among these were parts of sacred statues of Apollo, Aphrodite the sister of Apollo, and Leto their mother.  These statues were made out of gold and ivory, as the colossal statue of Zeus was at Olympia.  As far as I am aware, these are the only classical Greek statues made of these materials that are still in existence.  The ivory burned black, but the gold could be restored to its original colour.

When I saw the face of Apollo I had the sense of what it might have been like to enter that ancient temple 2500 years ago.

The next item of real interest to me was an inscription of a hymn to Apollo that includes the most ancient musical notation in existence, dating to the 2nd century BC.  The letter-pitch notation is written above the words.

Finally, there was a wonderful bronze statue of a charioteer, given to the sanctuary by the ruler of a Greek colony in Sicily after the games at Delphi dedicated to Pythean Apollo.  This sculpture was originally part of a group that included a four horse chariot, and was one of the most famous sculptures in antiquity.

The statue is one of the few Greek bronzes to preserve the inlaid glass eyes and the copper detailing of the eyelashes and lips. The headband is of silver and may have been inlaid with precious stones, which have been removed.

The figure is of a very young man, as is shown by his soft side-curls. (Like modern jockeys, chariot racers were chosen for their lightness, but also needed to be tall, so they were frequently teenagers.) He is wearing a xystis, the garment which drivers wore while racing. It falls to his ankles and is fastened high at the waist with a plain belt. The two straps that cross high at his upper back prevented the xystis from "ballooning" during the race.

The statue is of the moments after the race when the winner of the race might have been doing a victory lap.  The veins are still up in his arm from the tension of the race, but he is now relaxed with a serene expression on his face.  As you can see, the folds of his clothing are beautifully shown.

After the time at the museum we went to the archaeological site of ancient Delphi, climbing the sacred way up to the Temple of Apollo.  There was a breath-taking view from the Temple site.

There were lots of monuments to see on the site, but one that caught my fancy was the altar of Apollo, just in front of the Temple site.  The island of Chios donated this impressive altar built almost entirely of black marble in 475 BC.  Because of the steep gradient of the hill, the altar is tall looking from the bottom, but a normal height looking from the forecourt of the Temple.  As a result of this donation, the authorities at Delphi gave to the Chians the right to go to the front of the queue (promanteia) if they wanted an oracle.  This right is written on the base of the altar.  After my visit to Chios, I was intrigued to see this piece of the island's history.

In the afternoon we headed towards Kalambaka, where we were to stay close to the Meteora monasteries that are perched on their steep pinnacles.  On the way we stopped at Thermopylae, the site of a famous 'last stand' by around 1,500 Greeks in the face of a huge Persian army.  When the Persians advanced towards the small Greek force guarding a narrow pass, the Persians told the Greeks to lay down their arms.  The leader of the Greek force, the Spartan King Leonidas, famously replied "Molon labe" ("Come and get them").  After two days of fighting, with the Persians sustaining severe losses, they found a way to encircle the Greeks.  The small force of Spartans, Thespians and Thebans stayed where they were, blocking the pass and fighting to the death, so that other Greek soldiers retreating would escape being caught and surrounded by the Persian chariots and cavalry.  Although this was a defeat for the Greek forces, the bravery of the Greek - and especially the Spartan - soldiers made this a defining moment for the ancient Greeks.

The poet Simonides composed a famous epigram that memorialises the heroism of the Spartan soldiers: "Stranger, go and to the Spartans tell, that here, obeying their behests, we fell."  This has been engraved as an epitaph on a memorial stone at the site.

The next day, after a short stop at an icon-making workshop, we visited two of the monasteries on the Meteora rock pinnacles.  The weather was wet and so the splendour of the view that you often see in photos was diminished, but on the other hand the mist and cloud created quite a mysterious atmosphere.  This is what the rocky outcrop looks like from the town of Kalambaka (a Turkish word meaning 'beautiful castle').  St Stephen's is the only monastery visible from the town.  You can just see signs of St Stephen's monastery on the outcrop a quarter of the picture along from the left.

On the way up the mountain we saw our first monastery from close quarters.  This was Roussanou monastery.  It is on a rock pinnacle, but is relatively accessible, being the lowest of the monasteries and quite close to the main road up the cliffs.

Then we went on to St Stephen's monastery, which I had glimpsed from Kalambaka.

As we entered St Stephens I noticed our guide paying our entrance fee, and I noticed how strange it seemed  to be paying a fee to enter a monastery.  I realised again how privileged I had been to experience the Athonite monasteries.  In fact, the contrast was strong with my experience on the Holy Mountain.  These monasteries were more geared to tourism as museums of how things used to be (although they all had a small resident community of monks or nuns), while the Athonite monasteries were first and foremost places of contemporary spiritual endeavour and commitment.  They were only secondarily places of historical interest or places for guests to visit.  I thought how important it is for the number of visitors on Mt Athos to remain limited so that the spiritual work of the monks remains the main thing on Mt Athos.

After a walk through St Stephens we went to Varlaam monastery, which was one of the larger monasteries in the Meteora area.  It was wet as we went up through the monastery to the main church (katholikon).

We were not allowed to take photos within the katholikon, so I took this view of the porch outside it.

In former times the only way to enter the monastery had been by a hoist.  Now heavy items are still brought in by hoist.  We visited the room that housed the hoist apparatus.

Formerly the windlass was used for powering the hoist, but now the hoist is motorised.  The hoist lifts things a distance of approximately 15 metres.  This was enough of a distance to deter unwanted guests.

As we left the Meteora region the weather cleared, and we finally got the chance to take a more typical photo of one of the pinnacle monasteries.  This is a photo from below Roussanou monastery.

We had lunch in Kalambaka at a restaurant that served 'home made food', and where you could go into the kitchen to choose what you wanted.

It was a lovely meal and set us up for the trip back to Athens.